DIRECTED BY ANNIE ERNAUX AND DAVID ERNAUX-BRIOT
NARRATED BY ANNIE ERNAUX
FRENCH WITH ENGLISH SUBS // 64 MINS // RATED 12A
IN CINEMAS & CURZON HOME CINEMA 23 JUNE 2023
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
French Nobel Laureate and internationally acclaimed writer Annie Ernaux (A Girl’s Story, A Woman’s Story, A Man’s Place) has put pen to celluloid and created a compelling autobiographical film rather like the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård’s autofiction novels (My Struggle). The Super 8 Years focusses on Annie Ernaux’s family life with her late ex-husband, the academic Philippe Ernaux, and her two young sons in the 1970s.
At the time, a Super 8 camera was the equivalent of a smart phone today. However, control of the camera was a seamless allocation of gender roles - the footage was done by husband Philippe. Once the marriage came to an end, so did the filming.
Annie Ernaux, as narrator, gives voice to these silent clips (Super 8 did not record sound) at a time in her life when she felt silenced. She wrote her first novel in secret (as did Jane Austen two centuries previously), during snatched time away from household tasks. Over the footage Annie Ernaux’s older voice passes comment on past events in dulcet French tones. She reflects on moving house, family visits, holidays, and travel. These were the occasions which merited filming.
There are scenes of her two sons from childhood to teens. Whilst they spin and turn, there is something restrained about the boys under the scrutiny of a camera held by their father. Much of this sentiment is reflected in Annie Ernaux too, who smiles on cue, sporting 70’s halter necks and headscarves. She stands apart from groups as if enduring the experience.
Philippe Ernaux appears in some clips when the camera was relinquished. We see a rangy, smiling young man in casual flares, over-tanned and smoking incessantly (and alas, fatefully).
As Annie Ernaux points out, the Super 8 was the first opportunity for amateurs, mostly families, to record moving images of themselves and their circumstances. It was a bourgeois pastime according to Annie who comments with analytical amusement on clips of home interiors and holidays to exotic tourist resorts. She reflects on trips made to communist countries (as intellectual socialists on trend at the time) where they were prohibited by the authorities to mix with locals.
There is much left unsaid in The Super 8 Years. The film sits within the seventeen years of a marriage, but we are not told why it ended. It documents the boys’ childhoods, but we do not know anything about them or what became of them. Perhaps there is an assumption we know about Annie Ernaux and her ex-husband as celebrity intellectuals? Perhaps Annie Ernaux wanted to keep things private.
What Annie does say is measured and pertinent. She gives a brief line about her mother, who lived with them for a period, witnessing her dysfunctional marriage. She remarks how she wrote in secret and yet published her first novel. Her asides and passing comments are momentous.
The Super 8 Years is a collaboration with Annie Ernaux'son David who edited this decade of family clips which ended when his parents separated. Perhaps it is a gift to his mother and vice versa. It’s certainly a gift to audiences and speaks volumes through Annie Ernaux’s mesmerising and considered words.